Olaoluwakiitan (Kiitan) Adedeji, 14, felt anxious on Dec. 3, 2022, as she took the stage to share her poetry with her community.
“I was very nervous to go up on stage and perform. It was only the second time I’d performed poetry in front of people before,” she said.
Adedeji’s performance coincided with her becoming Lexington’s first youth poet laureate (YPL). The moment came at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning during the commencement ceremony for the inaugural program.
However, Adedeji’s love for writing, which she found before becoming the YPL in Kentucky’s second-largest city, allowed her to thrive.
“I think that I’ve always had some interest in writing, but I think my love for writing really started to develop in my later years of elementary school, so 3rd, 4th and 5th grade,” she said. “I wrote poetry not as much as I do now, but I did write poetries here and there throughout middle school.”
Adedeji attends the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA) program at Lafayette High School (Fayette County). Her experience with the program allowed her to explore interacting with people while writing.
“Through SCAPA and different clubs, like I did writing club in middle school, I was able to explore my writing and engage with others,” she said.
She began to “invest” in the art form as she progressed in her poetry writing.
“I think I really started to invest myself into poetry, into reading other poets, towards the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022,” she said. “Although I’ve always had a love for poetry as an art form, I always liked reading poems, but I never really started to think about it in terms of myself.”
For Adedeji, poetry is a way to self-reflect.
“For the poems I submitted for youth poet laureate, and especially for the poems I wrote this year at SCAPA, it was really all about self-reflection,” she said. “I think that through my writing, I was really able to sit down with myself and think about the things I had experienced and think about the things that were happening around me.”
And her words represent the ways she feels.
“I was able to take all of those feelings and all of those thoughts and put them down into words,” she said.
On the day of the commencement, Adedeji’s anxiety did not compare to the presence of her supporters.
“I was surrounded by friends, and I was surrounded by family,” she said. “They were all very supportive of me during that.”
The program has only expanded Adedeji’s support network.
“I think it’s always important to have something to pull from and to have something to inspire you, and one of the most prominent ways I do that is through reading,” she said. “I read Crystal Wilkinson’s ‘Perfect Black’ book and I also read Bernard Clay’s ‘English Lit’ for inspiration.”
She said getting to know poets, including Clay and Wilkinson, has grown her interest.
“It really is a privilege to be able to have these opportunities to look up to other people,” she said. “When you’re presented with privileges like that, you need to put them to full use because it’s not something everyone has access to. I’m very thankful that I’m able to interact with poets like that.”
Adedeji, who will serve as Lexington’s YPL until December, said she would continue giving young people a voice through her poetry.
“One way I’m fulfilling the duties of my role is writing, as in my experience,” she said. “The poems I wrote about and submitted for youth poet laureate were about my experience as a black person in a predominantly white program.”
The YPL program is nationally recognized. The honorable title highlights artistic, civically engaged, leading and social justice-oriented young people. The program made its way to Lexington in 2019, but Adedeji is the first person to hold the title due to pandemic challenges following its initial expansion.
To read Adedeji’s poetry and learn more about the program, visit the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning’s Lexington Youth Poet Laureate webpage.